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Sometimes we obey, often we refuse. Most frequently, when we perform this duty at all, we perform it partially. Concerning almost every question which is before us, we assemble some arguments, and refuse or neglect to gather others. In this employment the mind usually leans to one side of the question; and labours not to find out truth, or the means of illustrating it, but to possess itself of the arguments which will support the side to which it inclines, and weaken or overthrow that which it dislikes. Thus we collect all the arguments in our power, favourable to our own chosen doctrines, and oppose the contrary ones ; and of design, or through negligence, avoid searching for those which will weaken our own doctrines, or strengthen such as oppose them. In all this our inclinations are solely and supremely active, and govern the whole process. For this conduct, therefore, we are deserving of blame ; and, as the case may be, of pupishment.
4. The mind is equally voluntary in weighing, admitting, or rejecting evidence, after it is collected.
It is as easy, and as common, for the mind to turn its eye from the power of evidence, as from the evidence itself. I have already shown that we can, at pleasure, either collect arguments, or refuse to collect them. With equal ease we can examine them after they are collected, or decline this examination; and after such examination as we choose to make is completed, we can with the same ease either admit, or reject them. The grounds on which we can render the admission or rejection satisfactory to ourselves, are numerous, and are always at hand. The arguments in question may oppose or coincide with some unquestioned maxim, principle, or doctrine, pre-conceived by us, and regarded as fundamental; and for these reasons may be at once admitted, or rejected. They may accord with the opinions of those whom we may think it pleasing, hunourable, safe or useful to follow. We may hastily conclude that they are all the arguments which favour the doctrine opposed to ours, and deem them wholly insufficient to evince its truth. We may suppose, whenever they seem to conclude against us, that there is some latent error in them, discernible by others, if not by ourselves; which, if discerned would destroy the force. We may determine, whenever the arguments in our possession are apprehended to be inconclusive in favour of our own opinions, that there are others which, although not now in our possession, would, if discovered by us, determine the question in our favour. We may beliere, that the arguments before us will, if admitted, infer some remote consequence, in our apprehension grossly absurd, and on the ground of this distant consequence reject their immediate influence. Or the doctrine to be proved may be so odious to us, as to induce us to believe that no arguments whatever can evince its truth. For these and the like reasons, we can weigh or not weigh, admit or reject, any arguments whatever ; and conclude in favour of either side of perhaps every moral question.
A judge, in any cause which comes before him, can admit, or refuse to admit, witnesses on either side. After they have testified, he can consider or neglect their testimony, and can give it what degree of credit he pleases, or no credit at all. In all this he acts voluntarily ; so perfectly so, that another judge, of a different disposition, could and would, with the same means in his possession, draw up a directly opposite judgment concerning the cause. Facts of this nature are so frequent, as to be well known to mankind, acknowledged universally, and accounted a part of the ordinary course of things. The mind, in considering doctrines, is usually this partial judge ; and conducts itself towards its arguments, as the judge towards his witnesses. In this conduct it is altogether voluntary, and altogether sinful.
In the contrary conduct of collecting arguments with a design to know the truth, in weighing them fairly, and in admitting readily their real import, it is equally voluntary; and possesses and exhibits the contrary character of virtue, as really as in any case whatever. Accordingly, all men, when employed in observing these two modes of acting in their fellow-men, have pronounced the latter to be excellent and praiseworthy, and the former to be unjust, base, and deserving alike of their contempt and abhorrence.
5. The doctrine which I am opposing, if true, renders both virtue and vice, at least in a great proportion of instances, impossible.
All virtue is nothing else but voluntary obedience to truth; and all sin is nothing else but voluntary disobedience to truth, or voluntary obedience to error. Accordingly, God has re
quired nothing of mankind, but that they should obey truth ;' particularly, the truth; or evangelical truth. Voluntary conförmity to truth is, therefore, virtue in every possible instance. But we cannot voluntarily conform to truth, unless we believe it. If our faith, then, is wholly involuntary, and necessary, it follows, of course, that we are never faulty nor punishable for not believing ; since our faith, in every case where we do not believe, is physically impossible. For not believing, therefore, we are not, and cannot be, blameable; and as we cannot conform to truth, when we do not believe it to be truth, it follows that, whenever we do not believe, we are innocent in not obeying.
For the same reason, whenever we believe error to be truth, our belief, according to this scheme, is compelled by the same phisical necessity; and we are guiltless in every such instanco of faith. All our future conformity to such error is of course guiltless also. Thus he who believes in the existence and perfections of Jehovah, in the rectitude of his law and government, and in the duty of obeying bim, and he who believes in the deity of Beelzebub, or a calf, or a stock, or a stone, while they respectively worship and serve these infinitely different gods, are in the same degree virtuous, or in the same degree sinful. In other words, they are neither sinful nor virtuous. The faith of both is alike physically necessary; and the conformity of both to their respective tenets follows their faith, of
Should it be said that, although faith is thus necessury, our conformity or nonconformity to what we believe is still voluntary, and therefore is virtuous ; I answer, that were I to allow this, as I am not very unwilling to do, to be true; still, the objector must acknowledge that a vast proportion of those human actions which have universally been esteemed the most horrid crimes, are, according to his own plan, completely justified.
He cannot deny, that the heathen have almost universally believed their idols to be gods, and their idolatry the true religion. He cannot deny, that a great part of the wars which have existed in the world, have by those who have carried them on, been believed to be just ; that the persecutions of the Christians were by the heathen, who were the authors of them, thought highly meritorious ; that the horrid cruelties of the Popish inquisition were, to a great extent, considered
by the Catholics as doing God service;' and that all the Mohammedan butcheries were regarded by the disciples of the Koran as directly required by God himself. Nay, it cannot be denied by the objector, nor by any man who has considered the subject, that the Jews in very great numbers beliered themselves warranted in rejecting, persecuting, and crucifying Christ. This is undoubtedly indicated by that terrible prediction of the Saviour, ' If ye believe not, that I am be, ye shall die in your sins.' Let the objector then, and all who hold his opinions on this subject, henceforth be for ever silent concerning the guilt usually attributed to these several classes of men, and acknowledge them to have been compelled by a physical necessity to all these actions, lamentable indeed, but wholly unstained with any criminality.
At the same time, let it be observed, that the determination of the will is always as the dictate of the understanding which precedes it. If, then, this dictate of the understanding is produced by a physical necessity, how can the decision of the will, which follows it of course, be in any sense free? If faith be necessary in the physical sense, every other dictate of the understanding must be equally necessary, and, of course, that which precedes every determination of the will. In what manner, then, can the determination of the will fail of being the mere result of the same necessity ?
But if the determinations of the will are physically necessary, they cannot be either virtuous or sinful. If, therefore, these things are true, there can be, according to this schemo, neither virtue nor vice in man.
6. This doctrine charges God with a great part, if not with all, the evil conduct of mankind.
Whatever the system of things in this world is, it was contrived and created, and is continually ordered, by God. If mankind believe only under the coercion of physical necessity, then God has so constituted them, as to render their faith, in this sense, necessary and 'unavoidable. Whenever they ert, therefore, they err thus necessarily by the ordinance and irresistible power of God. Of course, as the state of things in this, as well as all other respects, is the result of his choice, be bas chosen that they should err, and compelled them to err by the irresistible impulse of almighty power. In this case, we will suppose them to desiga faithfully to do their duty, or, in other
words, to conform their conduct to the doctrines which they actually believe, and suppose to be truth. In thus acting, they either sin, or they do not. If they sin, God compels them to sin: if they do not, still all their conduct is productive of evil only: for conformity to error is, of course, productive only of evil. By this scheme, therefore, this mass of evil, immensely great and dreadful, is charged to God alone,
At the same time, if in the same manner they embrace truth, their reception of it is equally compelled. Their conformity to it is, of course, no more commendable, than their conformity to error; and God has so constituted things, that they cannot conform to it of choice, or from love to truth, as such ; but only from physical necessity. Or, if this should be questioned, they cannot conform to it from the apprehension that it is truth, because they have embraced it under the force of this necessity; and must conform to every thing which they have embraced in one manner only.
There are many other modes of disproving this doctrine, on which I cannot now dwell; and which cannot be necessary for the present purpose, if the arguments already advanced have the decisive influence which they appear to me to possess. I will only observe further, that the scheme which I am opposing is directly at war with all the commands and exhortations given us to search the Scriptures,' to receive the truth,' to • seek for wisdom,' to · know God,' to believe in Christ,' and to believe his word;' and with the commendations and promises given to those who do, and the censures and threatenings denounced against those who do not, these things. Equally inconsistent are they with all our own mutual exhortations to candour, to investigation, to impartial decision, and to all other conduct of the like nature; our commendation of those who pursue it, and our condemnation of those who do not. Both the Scriptures and common sense ought, if this scheme is well founded, to assume totally new language, if they would accord with truth.
Should any person suppose that I have annexed too much inportance to truth, in asserting, that virtue in all instances is nothing else but a voluntary conformity to truth; and imagine, that it ought to be defined, a voluntary conformity to the divine precepts: he may gain complete satisfaction on this point, by merely changing a precept into a proposition.